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Southern governors sending migrants north face a crisis of faith

It’s getting harder for a politician to adhere to Christian morals and get elected president.

Immigrants gather with their belongings outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday flew two planes of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, escalating a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration's failed border policies. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP)

(RNS) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent two planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Wednesday (Sept. 14) to protest a rise in illegal immigration under President Joe Biden. Each plane carried about 50 immigrants, including children who appear to have mostly come from Venezuela and Colombia, two South American countries experiencing severe economic and political turmoil.

After the planes unexpectedly landed on the island, many of the passengers said they had been misled, claiming they thought they were being sent to Boston, where they would be provided with help attaining work permits and English language lessons. DeSantis seems to think Martha’s Vineyard would be a better place to own the libs.

DeSantis likes to play the part of a proud Christian on the campaign trail, even commandeering Bible verses in stump speeches. But apparently, when it comes to the Bible’s repeated commands along the lines of “do not mistreat or oppress an immigrant,” he’s willing to make some compromises.

And who can blame him? It’s getting harder for a politician to adhere to Christian morals and get elected president.

No one will deny that America’s immigration system is overburdened and in need of serious reform. And Southern states are carrying more of the burden of that broken system by the mere fact of geography. But misleading migrants and sending them where resources to help them are both in shorter supply and less readily obtained is impossible to reconcile with the basic tenets of the Christian faith, which demand that all humans be treated with respect and compassion regardless of their nationality or citizenship.

In a statement in response to DeSantis’ stunt, the Catholic archbishop of Miami said, “Immigration is not just a political issue, but a fundamental human and moral issue. For the immigrants are not faceless numbers — but human persons. They are our brothers and sisters; Justice and prudence demand that we treat them with dignity and find a reasonable way for their contributions and presence to be recognized within the law.”

DeSantis is not the only politician to send migrants far afield to curry favor with his party. The Republican governors of Arizona and Texas have bused more than 13,000 migrants and asylum-seekers to Chicago, New York and Washington. Helpless passengers are dropped off with little to no instruction about what to do next or how to attain food and shelter. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey are also self-avowed Christians. But they don’t seem to know much about what their religious tradition teaches when it comes to immigration. Or worse, they don’t care.

The Bible has quite a lot to say about the treatment of immigrants. In fact, the word “immigrant” or “stranger” appears at least 90 times in the Hebrew Bible alone. In Exodus and Leviticus, God prohibits the mistreatment of migrants and commands the Israelites to treat them like citizens. These commands and principles are echoed throughout the Hebrew Bible, most notably by Israel’s justice-obsessed prophets.

Israel’s farmers were instructed to leave some of the crops in their fields for the poor and immigrants to gather. Deuteronomy mandates that some of the tithes collected by Israel’s priests be used to provide food for foreigners. Among the people of Israel, hospitality toward outsiders was a sign of one’s faithfulness to God. Cheating, mistreating, overburdening or taking advantage of an immigrant in any way was considered an affront to God himself.

The New Testament is also filled with commands and encouragements to be compassionate and kind to anyone in need. The Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans echoes the Jewish Scriptures’ refrain to “extend hospitality to strangers,” as does the Letter to the Hebrews.

Jesus himself, of course, is famous for yammering on about loving one’s neighbors. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells a story about the final judgment in which we are told to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

Whatever Christians are, they are followers of the teachings of Jesus. And Jesus taught that the way we treat immigrants is the way we treat God.

It’s easy for a politician to show up at church on Sunday, bend the knee and offer a hearty “amen.” It’s much harder to live out the principles of their faith in a time of such great division, when one’s political future is dependent upon one’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to stick it to your opponents and rally the extreme fringes of your party’s base.

When DeSantis’ planes unexpectedly dropped off 50 helpless migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, a town of only 20,000 with no immigrant housing or services to speak of, a local parish stepped in to help.

The Rev. Vincent Seadale of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, which houses homeless people during the winter months, was at a conference in North Carolina on Wednesday when a parishioner called to inform him of the situation. Seadale gave permission for his parishioners to offer the migrants food, a place to sleep and a play area for the children. Volunteers kept vigil overnight in case any unexpected needs arose.

“We’re doing what churches are supposed to do and taking care of people as they show up,” Seadale told The Washington Post.

The contrast between St. Andrews Episcopal and the Republican governors down South could not be starker. No one ever said being Christian was easy, but luckily some are still willing to do the work.

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